Viewing Gender as a Spectrum: How Moving Beyond the Gender Binary Can Allow for New Possibilities in Consumer Insights
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Viewing Gender as a Spectrum: How Moving Beyond the Gender Binary Can Allow for New Possibilities in Consumer Insights

February 3, 2015

What is your gender? Ah, the classic question that pops up within the first minute of every online profile you’ve created, survey you’ve filled out, plane ticket you’ve booked, and countless other online processes. In an information-obsessed age, both the need and desire to identify oneself has grown increasingly important. But what happens when the options presented do not adequately fulfill the respondent’s needs? More specifically, what if the respondent is genderqueer, yet faced with the dilemma of choosing between male or female?

What is your gender?

Ah, the classic question that pops up within the first minute of every online profile you’ve created, survey you’ve filled out, plane ticket you’ve booked, and countless other online processes. In an information-obsessed age, both the need and desire to identify oneself has grown increasingly important. But what happens when the options presented do not adequately fulfill the respondent’s needs? More specifically, what if the respondent is genderqueer, yet faced with the dilemma of choosing between male or female?

Genderqueer people are defined as those who either identify their gender somewhere between male or female, reject traditional notions of gender, or reject the concept of gender altogether. Therefore, when genderqueer people encounter “The Gender Question” in surveys, profiles, and more, they are faced with the problem of misidentifying themselves, and survey research that offers only two gender options may overlook genderqueer people’s experiences altogether.

When the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS) provided the opportunity for survey participants to identify their gender as “male,” “female,” “part time as one gender, part time as another,” or “a gender not listed here,” most survey participants identified as “male” or “female.” But over 800 respondents (13%) selected “a gender not listed here” and chose to write in their own gender. Today, genderqueer people identify as “hybrid,” “either/or,” “both/and,” and “mosaic,” with the terms changing as quickly as the times. The question then arises – how can survey rhetoric adapt to the current times, and how will market insight findings – and eventually, marketing itself – change once survey participants can more aptly declare their identification?

In 2012, the Harvard Kennedy School published an article titled “A Gender Not Listed Here: Genderqueers, Gender Rebels, and OtherWise in the National Transgender Discrimination Survey,” in which the scholars came to some surprising conclusions. They ultimately discovered that once genderqueer people were able to identify as such when responding to such surveys, researchers could both reach a significantly wider audience and collect a wealth of information surrounding the demographics of genderqueer people that they could not previously access. Most notably, it became evident that gender-variant respondents suffer from significant impacts of anti-transgender bias and in some cases are at higher risk for discrimination and violence.

If giving latitude for more variant respondents leads to new information, this then begs a multitude of questions: How will greater recognition of genderqueer people change survey results, and what will these surveys reveal about the demographics and habits of these underrepresented people? Furthermore, how will large-scale surveys conscientious of genderqueer-ness change the tone and strategy of marketing at large?

To begin exploring these questions, researchers can extrapolate current trends and data surrounding marketing and advertising. And while marketing campaigns have not yet directed efforts toward the genderqueer population, the tides are slowly turning to address the ever-present LGBTQ population in America. Earlier this month, jewelry company Tiffany & Co. released one of the company’s classic, black and white advertisements for a line of engagement rings, but this time with a taste of the rainbow variety. Rather than featuring the often-depicted heterosexual couple, the glossy advertisement featured two future husbands, who can be seen embracing each other while sitting on the porch of their New York City brownstone. And to add to the heart-melting nature of Tiffany’s latest campaign? The future husbands are not catalogue models, but rather, a real-life New York couple. The first to feature a gay couple in 178 years, the advertisement has been received with positivity and praise everywhere from The Washington Post to CBS.

Certainly, Tiffany’s latest advertisement reflects changing attitudes surrounding American institutions such as marriage and consumerism. But, just as importantly, the company’s move highlights the classic brand’s desire to broaden its consumer base while maintaining its relevance in a niche, luxury market. And just as Tiffany & Co. invites consumers to challenge their traditional notions surrounding marriage and sexual orientation, surveys and advertisements conscious of genderqueer people can do the same. Only after our understanding of gender identity and expression extends beyond traditional and rigid structures can we reach the most diverse corners of our market, ultimately empowering every kind of consumer.

 

– Laura Sim,
Communications Intern

 

Image by: http://imgkid.com/genderqueer.shtml

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